Archive for March, 2009

Boulevard Single-Wide IPA

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Released this year, Single-Wide is the newest offering from Boulevard Brewing Company out of Kansas City, Missouri. It is the metaphorical little brother of Double-Wide, their double IPA in the so-called Smokestack series. Boulevard points out that they use six varieties of hops, which you’ll note is twice the number of hop additions for Miller Lite.

2009-03-29-single-wideThe aroma of Single-Wide is at first floral and grassy like a field left fallow, but it is also subtly fruity. Identifying the fruit is challenging: apricots or peaches, some mango. While thick and complex, the nose is quite subtle – it requires concentration to bring out all the character. This ale is barely hazy, the color of a golden poppy, with creamy white head.

A taste brings pronounced bitterness on the tip of the tongue, with patience revealing a caramel malt driven flavor and body that balances. The bitterness grows more mild and spreads around the mouth, bringing with it a strong floral hop flavor. Some fruit character is present as well, manifesting as dark fruit such as pomegranate. The body is significant, with a bit of lingering caramel sweetness. Hop bitterness lingers towards the back of the mouth.

Overall I am very pleased with this beer. It is definitely an IPA, but its also quite sessionable. I am also happy that it’s not just half the recipe of Double-Wide. For that matter happy it’s not just a strong version of the Boulevard Pale Ale. Really happy that it’s their new permanent brew.

+Boulevard Single-Wide IPA

4.0 (4-8-8-4-16)

The Moot Case Against Big Beer

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

The Independent today published a scathing analysis of the extreme beer “craze”. Among their points:

  • these beers have “intense flavours”, “alcohol contents of up to 12 per cent”, and “10 times as much hops as a traditional pint”
  • they are produced by “young entrepreneurs trying to capture the attention – and cash – of lager-guzzling twentysomethings”
  • drinkers may be “unaware of the strength of the new products” which may “exceed [the] daily recommended alcohol intake”

Most frustratingly, the article quotes the head brewer of BrewDog saying, “There’s no way someone can drink 20 a night. It’s probably the least economic way of buying alcohol. You can get a bottle of vodka for £5.” Somehow they just ignore this perfectly reasonable, well-articulated point.

Fortunately, there is some rational writing about beer out there as well. For example, that of Pete Brown. His clear, thoughtful, and bulletproof reply includes several important points:

  • “To suggest that stylish packaging can only be appreciated by the under-25s is patronising to the people these beers are really aimed at – affluent, stylish drinkers in their late twenties and older – in other words, your readership.”
  • “Thirdly, anyone who works in the drinks industry would tell you that the trend among young binge drinkers is for drinks that combine a high alcohol content with an unchallenging flavour. The whole point of these beers is that they are full-flavoured, designed for savouring and almost impossible to glug quickly.”
  • “Wine is sold in 75cl bottles, which are commonly shared between two people. If a 33cl bottle of beer at more than 10% is more than daily recommended alcohol intake (and almost all the beers you mention are not this strong) what’s half a bottle of wine (37.5cl) at 12-14%?”

Because it is so eloquent I will just quote entirely the last two bullet points (emphasis mine).

* Building on these points, Saturday’s Independent demonstrates breathtaking hypocrisy which does a disservice to its readership. The magazine carries its usual page of wine hagiography (funny how you hardly ever feature beer in this way, even though a cursory look at TGI readership data would show you that your readership are enthusiastic consumers of quality beer). This week Anthony Rose talks us through Italian whites. In total 18 different wines are given enthusiastic endorsement. There’s not even a single mention of the alcohol content of any of these wines. And yet I can promise you that every single one of them has a higher ABV than any of the “mindblowing” beers in your extreme beer article, three of which are illustrated with alarmist starbursts drawing attention to their alcohol levels – levels that are so low that if wine was to be produced to that strength, EU law would prevent it from being called wine because it would be too weak.

* But it gets better. In the main paper, 24 pages after the “extreme beer” feature, there’s an article entitled ‘War of the rosés’, about a scheme to make French rosé wine more popular. Here is a direct quote from that piece: “If we are forced to put the word ‘traditional’ on our bottles, people will think, especially young people, that it is a fuddy-duddy wine, an old-fashioned kind of drink. That will ruin everything we have achieved.” That’s from a winemaker. And here’s the journalist himself: “Young people, especially, have taken to rosé as a fun drink, which is refreshing, uncomplicated and relatively cheap. (Anjou rosé sells in the UK at between £5 and £8 a bottle. Other French rosés sell for as little as £3 a bottle.)” Despite the clear admission that rosé winemakers are targeting younger people, despite the fact that rosé wine is being sold cheap and marketed in a contemporary fashion in order to lure these drinkers, there is no worried quote from Alcohol Concern. No sensationalist headline. No mention of the ABV of rosé wines. The attractive illustration of three glasses of rose – unlike your illustration of extreme beers – carries no bold starbursts. The inference is clear: when winemakers admit that they are selling cheap wine (12-14% ABV) and actively targeting young people with 750ml bottles for as little as £3, that’s OK. But when a brewer creates a beer (6-12% ABV) and sells it in a 33cl bottle that retails from £4 upwards, and tells you it is emphatically NOT targeting young drinkers, you run the piece with a ‘health fears’ headline and a subhead that claims the beers are, in fact, targeting younger drinkers – despite the fact that this is a lower ABV drink, being sold at a higher price.

Independent, you just got lawyered.

Also, finally some coverage (warning: website issues) in the “Newspaper Iowa Depends On” of Iowa’s big beer debate. Some background: in Iowa, any beer over 6.25% alcohol is considered liquor. There are three ramifications for this:

  • brewers wishing to make such beer must hold a distiller’s license (even if they don’t wish to distill)
  • strong beer must be sold through the state only
  • good beer is unavailable in Iowa, because brewers don’t want to deal with the state

The article doesn’t seem to take a position but what do you expect from the Reggie?

Phoenix – Day 2: Frustration

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The broski and the pops on the new light rail.

The broski and the pops on the new light rail. Notice his shirt.

The bro is a thoughtful guy. Phoenix is the definition of sprawl so even finding a gas station is difficult sometimes. Before the trip he printed out a map of things we might try to look for: trailheads, places to eat, breweries.

Most of the time looking for Mexican food we just wing it (that’s the one thing you can find there). Before our game in Scottsdale we found a place there called Los Olivos. Wonderfully tasty in an old slightly strange building. I mean that in the best way – this is a place you really can’t find anywhere else.

2009-03-26-olivosAnyway, after lunch we saw the Royals at the Giants. After that we made use of the broski’s map, deciding to go to Papago Brewing, also in Scottsdale. Papago is a first class beer bar, and they also contract produce a half dozen beers, a few of which have won Great American Beer Festival awards. I get the sense that they do alot of to-go sales: they have probably ten cooler doors of microbrews. Most of the selection is from the west coast, especially southern California. I spent the whole evening worrying about wanting to take it all home. Half way through dinner I switched seats so I wouldn’t have to look at it.

Stupid airline checked luggage costs. Well I could take them if they were in 3 ounce tasters and all fit in a quart size ziplock bag.

At least while I was there I tried some interesting things that, for one reason or another, you cannot get ahold of in Iowa.

I started out with Papago’s abbey tripel contract brewed by Br. Van Steenberg, makers of Gulden Draak. Called Oude Zuipers, it is a crystal clear old gold, with some creamy bone-white head. The nose is a little fruity with strong notes of caramel. The taste is initially slightly sweet but fades to a strong peppery spice flavor that quickly disappears. A bit of peppery sweetness lingers. Light, but a bit cloying.

I followed this with Karma from Avery Brewing, another Belgian-style ale, this one brewed in Boulder, Colorado. It’s a bit hazy, a golden amber with some off-white head. The aroma is very clean, with just a bit of maltiness showing through. The taste is caramel and herbs, with a light sweetness that is clean and drinkable. Karma is lively, light but significant.

New Belgium’s Biere de Mars (another Belgian style, bier de garde – beer for keeping, that is, cellaring) is an opal deep straw color with a bit of head. The aroma is thin: hints of malt and hints of fruit, perhaps mango? In contrast, the flavor is strong, sharp, and spicy, though it quickly dulls to a lightly malty, peppery sweetness.

When I ordered my last beer I had a hard time explaining it. Yes, it is brewed by a place called “Pizza Port“. Yes, it’s actually really good beer. Yes, they were just some pizza joint that decided to start making beer, and now they’re among the best. After all those Belgians I needed something hoppy, so I ordered The Ripper, their English IPA. This is a brilliantly clear copper ale with ample near-white head. The nose is delicately floral, but I also got a significant off character that must have been from the age or storage of the beer. The flavor is great, with a full, round bitterness and a good amount of floral hop flavor. It is dry and fizzy, bitter and drinkable.

I did pick up one beer to-go, for the purposes of consuming while still in Arizona. More later…

+/-Papago Brewing Oude Zuipers

3.1 (3-6-7-2-13)

+/-Avery Brewing Karma

3.4 (3-6-7-4-14)

+/-New Belgium Biere de Mars

3.5 (3-6-8-4-14)

+/-Pizza Port The Ripper

3.1 (3-5-7-4-12)

Phoenix – Day 1: Serendipity

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

I went to Phoenix with the dad and broski for spring break. Now, this isn’t a baseball blog so over the next few posts I’ll extract only the parts of the trip relevant to beer.

Loser's punishment

Loser's punishment

One of the first things I did when arriving was post to Twitter about the beautiful weather. Now, the beer gods were with me that I mentioned Phoenix by name, because olllllo, the Beer Hack(er) (and sometime contributor to beerporn) saw it. He quickly messaged, inviting me to an annual event at his home at the base of South Mountain which was just by chance happening that very evening. So after the watching the Cubs lose and the Suns win I made my way to his place.

Shaq and Steve Nash shooting...

Shaq and Steve Nash shooting...

Okay, ‘event’ is the wrong word. Olllllo had five homebrews on tap and three brewing friends had brought two or three beers each, so there were at least 50 gallons flowing. Also olllllo was opening bottle after bottle from his cellar. It was a party.

I wish I had had more time for tasting: I was only able to sample a few of the beers. From a man that looked suspiciously like Sam Elliot I tasted a pale ale made with summit and simcoe hops, with a big rich herbal and fruity nose. A guy whose real name was Bill but who everybody just called ‘Wild’ had two selections. First was a pedestrian roggenbier. Late in the evening he brought out his reserve keg: three gallons of bourbon porter that he’s been aging over a year on oak. It was smooth, yet rough. It was balanced, yet intense. It was fantastic. I had to find out how he got the ratio so perfect. “I had a half a fifth left and I wasn’t going to drink it, so I just threw it in.” This guy is my kind of brewer.

Me and olllllo and his kegerator

Me and olllllo and his kegerator

Ollllo himself had a few interesting selections. I had what he refers to as his “Meheeco Vienna Lager”. What can I say, it was authentic. He also had a perry (that’s pear cider for the unenlightened) that wasn’t half bad. The star of his lineup, however, was labelled simply “Centennial IPA”. While drinking the first glass of this I failed to take proper stock of the aroma, or notice that centennial is (at least according to teh internets) the principal hop in Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s, a beer you should know I love. For the lazy, my description was that “[t]he hop aroma is strong enough that you don’t even need to lean in.” After being directly informed of the attempt at cloning, I was blown away. While he can still work on the flavor a bit, ollllo’s version has exactly the nose of Two Hearted. Man I wish I could brew like that.

More southwest updates to come…

Session #25: Love Lager

Friday, March 6th, 2009

session_logoThe Session is a monthly beer blog carnival. This month (#25) is hosted by The Beer Nut. His prompt comes down to a single line: “For millions of people the word “beer” denotes a cold, fizzy, yellow drink — one which is rarely spoken of among those for whom beer is a hobby or, indeed, a way of life.” The roundup is available here.

The Beer Nut asks “is there a time for some thoughtful considered sipping of a cold fizzy lager?” My answer is yes. Right now.

The one I have selected is from Millstream Brewing Company in Amana, IA. Released just this week, the reformulated Millstream Pilsner gets back to their Bavarian roots. The past few years this pilsner has been a little more towards the Czech interpretation, with plenty of Saaz hops, and last year it wasn’t even brewed because of the hop shortage. Now it’s back with a vengance.

Millstream Pilsner BeerThis pilsner, like any, pours a brilliantly clear straw – requisite for inclusion in this month’s Session. There is only a bit of white head, but it lasts – much stronger than many of the yellow lagers people think of as “beer”. A rich floral and earthy hop aroma is surprisingly strong for a beer this light. The nose dances between a sweet flowery character and a dry, earthy, herbal one. Some robust but clean malt aroma is there as well. See? It is possible to have a light colored beer with a strong aroma.

And taste as well. This one is a good example. A penetrating hop bitterness greets you immediately and lingers on the middle and sides of the tongue. A strong earthy and herbal flavor backs it up. The bitterness fades a bit to give way to the noble hop flavor, lasting for a moment before receding behind the still present green bitterness. A bit of sweetness provides counterpoint, maintaining a quaffable balance. Like most fizzy yellow beers this one is highly carbonated.

Once again demonstrating the depth and breadth of lagers, Millstream’s Pilsner is a quality brew you can share even with the uninitiated.

+Millstream Pilsner Beer

3.3 (2-7-7-3-14)

Chunks of Stuff

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

One of the pleasures of the stats afforded by WordPress is the list of search terms that lead people to my blog. One caught my eye today: “chunks of stuff in my imported beer”. I was only hours ago having a conversation about chunks of stuff in beer. This is a topic that deserves some discussion. Hopefully the above searcher can find this information helpful.

Mans Best Friend

Man's Best Friend

Beer is life. That is, beer is living. But some brewing companies who-shall-not-be-named repeatedly assault the natural origins of beer. They feel they can turn beer into a commodity, treating their beer like soda pop, expecting to extend “shelf life”. They see this as a matter of economics: the less beer they lose to spoilage the better their margin. However, they forget the time-honored methods of long-term storage of beer – strength, hops, and live yeast. In an effort to make their beers more like water they brew them to low strength with few hops, and go on to filter them crystal clear. As if that wasn’t enough mistreatment, they run the beer through a pasteurizer that raises the temperature to destroy any semblance of life.

Don’t get me wrong, the pasteurizer is one of the greatest advancements to food safety, for milk and other foods that spoil. However, the entire reason humanity has brewed beer for millenia is that it is an ideal method of preservation. No known pathogen can survive in beer.

My Best Friend

My Best Friend

The ancients referred to yeast by the only name they felt gave the phenomenon justice: the single word ‘godisgood’. They appreciated, even with a primitive understanding of science, that the cake of sediment is the secret behind the drink. Strike that, is the drink. Without it we just have sweet water that pretty soon will look and smell foul (not to mention the taste).

With it we have majesty. We have the wonder of zymurgy. We have beer. Beer is yeast and yeast is beer. That little sediment at the bottom of craft-brewed beer is the proof that what you hold in your hand is truly natural: the product of a centuries-old collaboration between microorganisms and macroorganisms, between yeastkind and humankind. In the hands of a competent master, those little critters will work wonders.

So getting back to the question that was never specifically asked: it is a good sign if your import (or craft or microbrewed) beer has a layer of sediment on the bottom. In general, chunks of stuff are good. If you prefer, allow your bottles to sit for a few hours and carefully decant into the glass, and you can quite easily leave most of it out.

But in the end must you? There are several reasons I go ahead and drink it anyway. Yeast is incredibly healthful. Witness the prevalence of brewer’s yeast resold in health stores or as a supplement. It is rich in B vitamins (all but B12) and loaded up with protein and a variety of minerals. It adds a lot of body to beer and has a characteristic bready flavor.

That’s why many craft beer drinkers use this method: decant half the beer, drink it. Swirl the rest of the bottle, pour, and drink that. It’s the best of both worlds for a beverage defined by such things.

Millstream Beer and Chocolate Tasting

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Millstream Beer and Chocolate PairingYesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Beer and Chocolate Tasting put on by Millstream Brewing Company. This event paired chocolates from the Chocolate Haus in Amana with eight radical one-off beers. Six of them were brewed by Millstream brewer Bill Heinrich, with one offering from Millstream’s sales guy Dan Carpenter as well as a coffee porter brewed by head brewer Chris Priebe. The event was coordinated by Nick Snavely. Tickets sold out over a week ahead of time and the place was packed the whole time. The impression I got from people is that everyone was very impressed with the beers, and the chocolate pairings were quite fun. I took tasting notes but forgot to write down process information so let’s see what I can remember.

The first beer I had was the Czech Pilsner. Made with loads of Czech Saaz hops, this one is a well executed Bohemian style pilsner. It’s a crystal clear straw with some white head. The hop aroma is very grassy and earthy, and behind it I notice just a bit of a corniness. The flavor is massively grassy, with a lingering bitterness on the middle of my tongue. It is deep, earthy, and herbal. There is a hint of sweetness, perhaps some dimethyl sulfide.

The pils was the only beer that seriously follows any style conventions. Most of them have a Belgian character; Belgian styles are pretty loosely defined as it is. Bill was not afraid to take liberties to ensure the brews were interesting, further complicating things. Many of the beers were made with a strain of Brettanomyces wild yeast, which develops different characteristics depending on how it is used. Most of these were fermented with usual brewing yeast Saccaromyces and then aged on the Brett, giving a berry-like fruity flavor and aroma as well as a noticeable funk.

Next up the Saisonnier Gran Cru. This was actually fermented with Brett only, except for a shot of ale yeast to help it along when it was being sluggish. When Brettanomyces is used for primary fermentation, it tends to behave alot more like the normal Saccaromyces. It does dry the beer out a little more, leaving a dry, dusty flavor accented by the funkiness.

The Saisonnier pours a milky straw color, with some creamy off-white head. The aroma is delicate and elusive, featuring light fruit (raspberries) as well as some funk (wet pavement?). The taste is dry, with a somewhat zoological funkiness. A bit of malt flavor breaks through. Despite being so dry there is a bit of a cloying sensation, as well as a lingering bitterness. The nose is fantastic but the flavor doesn’t quite match up.

The sign describing the beer officially named Dan’s Barleywine had a telltale note on the back. The reminder to the server read “Dan’s Awesomeness”, and that’s not too far off. Blended from two-year and three-year batches, the barleywine poured a deep dark sienna, lightly hazy, with persistent creamy head. It also leaves a little reminder on the inside of the glass. The rich, round aroma is a treat: chocolate caramels (so good), coffee, and hazelnuts. Despite the intensity of the aroma and alcohol, the flavor is light and balanced. Major coffee flavor dominates, with a roast and caramel malt character that reminds me of burnt cookies. Both malty and pleasantly bitter, “Awesomeness” is thick and coats your mouth. Do yourself a favor and ask Dan for a bottle.

Moving on to the Belgian-Style Tripel. This golden ale was made with the strain of yeast normally reserved for Bavarian hefes: generator of strong banana esters and clove phenols. This gives the Tripel a serious banana aroma, somewhat sweet, with hints of clove and black pepper. There is barely a tinge informing you of the level of alcohol. The flavor is very malty, with a big bready, biscuity taste. It is somewhat sweet with a rich, round alcohol warming sensation. Noticeable as well are banana and clove flavors. The thick coating feeling probably derives from the fact that this tripel is not as carbonated as many. Despite the use of wheat and Bavarian weizen yeast, this beer is most definitely a tripel, and a well executed one at that.

The Belgian Quad is a good example of the use of Brett to age. It is a cloudy deep dark brown with some tan head. The aroma is lightly sweet and strongly fruity of raspberries and mango, with just a bit of banana. The flavor is strongly alcoholic: somewhat sharp, almost medicinal berries. There is a bit of lingering bitterness and a thick, cloying sensation. A somewhat similar beer, the Wheat Wine is a cloudy unearthly red with almost no head. The aroma is lightly fruity, with a bit of wood and funk; the flavor roughly alcoholic, with some berries. A strong bitterness is simple and harsh.

Head brewer Chris Priebe brewed up a batch of Sumatra English Porter with real Sumatra coffee. It pours somewhat clear, a dark russet wtih some cheesy off-white head. The aroma is very light, with only a bit of roast malt and some caramel. The flavor is dry and roasty, with a strong rich roast coffee presence that lasts. Hint of an earthy hop flavor balance, and a coffee astringency lingers a bit.

By far the most impressive beer available was the so-called Wheat Stout. I can’t say enough good things about this beer. Made with Templeton Rye whiskey and plenty of roast and wheat malts and fermented with weizen yeast, this beer is simply impressive.

First off it is utterly black. There is just a hint of a creamy copper head. The nose is rich and playful, with a roast aroma that tickles the nose. The whiskey comes through quite well: malt, rye, and some notes of alcohols. There is also a serious banana and clove character. A taste is heaven. It is all too easy to overdo it on a whiskey addition, ruining the beer. Here the Templeton is perfectly balanced with the other flavors. The roast comes through first, followed quickly by the rye. There is a bit of astringent bitterness. This beer is thick and chewy. It is delicious. A tour de force.

++Millstream Wheat Stout

4.4 (5-9-8-4-18)

+Millstream Czech Pilsner

3.3 (3-6-7-4-13)

+Millstream Saisonnier Gran Cru

3.5 (4-8-6-3-14)

+Millstream Dan’s Barleywine

4.0 (4-9-7-4-16)

+Millstream Belgian-Style Tripel

3.5 (4-7-7-3-14)

+/-Millstream Belgian Quadrupel

3.1 (3-8-5-3-12)

+/-Millstream Wheat Wine

2.5 (2-6-4-3-10)

+/-Millstream Sumatra English Porter

3.0 (3-5-7-3-12)